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Pickleball is good for the body and mind. So why are more players getting hurt?

Male pickelball player reaches for the ball during a tournament
Male pickelball player reaches for the ball during a tournament

Part of the appeal of pickleballis the great workout you can get with fewer injuries.

But the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons says bone fractures related to the paddle sport have increased 200%over the last 20 years.

KERA’s Sam Baker talks about the increase with Dr. Travis Frantz, a sports orthopedic surgeon with Texas Health HEB.

It has a lot to do with the popularity of the sport with all age groups, particularly the aging population, as an activity and a competitive sport that they can participate in and have great exercise and a great workout, both in terms of their physical health as well as the social and maybe even mental aspects that come along with playing pickleball alongside others.

But what's causing the bone fractures, I mean, wasn't part of the appeal of this game prevention or reduction of injuries?

With any activity, you know there is an associated risk that comes with that as it pertains to injury.

And then with fractures, and particularly with this community, whether it be because of a direct fall, and someone maybe not recognizing that their underlying bone might be a little bit weaker as we begin to age, or whether it's due to a significant increase in activity in a short amount of time that causes more of a stress-related reaction or a stress-related fracture, both of those things can be encountered and certainly don't come without any sort of risk of playing a sport.

Different pickleball organizations are reporting things like ankle injuries, knee injuries, leg muscle injuries, elbow injuries, shoulder strains, falls and fractures. Is pickleball something that at least maybe beginners kind of take for granted?

I would certainly say that it is. I think with pickleball it is probably more difficult and maybe even more competitive at times.

People get into it. They really enjoy playing and their competitive side may get the best of them, and they find themselves lunging or even diving or doing something out of the ordinary they haven't done in years. That sets them up for an injury when they get caught up in the moment.

I certainly encourage people to play and be active, and I don't think these injury rates should take away from that.

But doing things as you would for any other activity, even if on the surface it maybe appears like it's a little bit more laid back, would be in your best interest to try to minimize that injury risk:

  • An appropriate warm-up is important.

  • Proper equipment is important.
  • Make sure you have a shoe that will have the appropriate traction and not increase your chance of injury
  • Regularly conditioning or exercising outside of just stepping on the court would be a benefit as well.
  • There is a significant increase as well in the amount of Achilles tendon injuries or Achilles tendon tears. Having a proper stretching routine, warming up a little bit, and potentially being in better condition before beginning to play on a regular or strenuous basis are all things which can mitigate that risk.
  • Who should stay away from pickleball? 

    If you have multiple other medical conditions or heart and lung problems, certainly talk with your primary care provider before going and exerting yourself or participating.

    But I think pickleball really is safe for the vast majority of people, particularly if they can set it up where you can get into leagues based upon age or skill set, so you're playing at an appropriate level.

    If that's taken into consideration along with your own personal health problems, I think for the vast majority of people, it can certainly be an acceptable and advantageous form of exercise in sport.


    Pickleball-related injuries are on the rise, doctors say


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    Copyright 2024 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

    Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.